International eCommerce Guide: How to Start Selling Globally

No doubt selling products online on an international level provides excellent opportunities for any business to grow. 

And with broadened internet accessibility for buyers and sellers worldwide, opportunities for international eCommerce will continue to unfold. 

Whether you’ve saturated your domestic market, seeking to attract new customers or assessing the profitability of a foreign market before opening a physical store – It’s time to get prepared. 

Global eCommerce sales are projected to grow year on year with cross-border B2C eCommerce expected to more than double, reaching $629 billion by 2022 (Forrester Research). 

Nevertheless, only 1% out of 30 million US companies are following an international business strategy. 

So, if you haven’t already expanded overseas, perhaps you’re not sure where to begin, or you may not know how to expand successfully. 

To get you started, here’s a comprehensive guide with the necessary steps to expand eCommerce globally. Remember, the most important thing when selling in foreign markets is a unique approach for each country.  

Lay the foundations with in-depth product & market research

Identify your target market

In the beginning, there’s no need for fancy analytics and expensive consultancy. 

Take a look at your business data to find the right target market by identifying a particular geographical region of buyers with high conversion rates and above-average order value. 

Perform thorough online research

Once you’ve identified a lucrative segment among your customers, aim to build on these insights with extensive web research. 

Google Trends provides an effective way to gain insight into the location of your customers and their searches. Besides analyzing the volume and geographical region of search terms that relate to your products, you will find corresponding themes and similar keywords that are trending on Google searches. 

Moreover, try to get a first glimpse at your competition by researching sellers who offer similar products in your geographical market of interest.  

Make use of Software tools

There are many powerful tools and online platforms out there that offer flexible and affordable plans for any seller. 

Think about utilizing software that provides valuable analytical insights into your target market, competition, and potential profit margins across multiple eCommerce markets to redefine and enhance the results from your initial research. 

Leveraging analytical insights will help base your target market selection on data-driven and actionable market insights and inform on the best products to sell internationally.

Plan business operations, strategy & legal aspects

Identify the right marketplace

The first thing is to decide on a sales channel to distribute your products. Are you already running your own online store? Have you built an online shop with Shopify? Or are you selling your products on Amazon, eBay, or Walmart stores?

Each scenario requires a unique approach – but we’ll get to that in more detail later on. 

Additional workload

With new business activities come additional tasks. 

Think about whether you can stem the extra work and if not, decide if you have sufficient workspace and the financial capacity to hire in-house employees. 

Alternatively, assess your options of support by outsourced managed services. 

Financing & Budgets

Evaluate your financial capabilities and set budgets. 

For instance, you may establish an international marketing budget separate to the domestic budget for promotion.

Legal aspects 

Identify the legal aspects and analyze the selling costs that arise with your selected marketplace.

Especially when expanding sales internationally through your online store, it’s essential to gain awareness of a country’s specific duties and taxes, customs or currency exchange fees.

To obtain further in-depth analysis, familiarize yourself with relevant aspects of data privacy laws, tariffs, insurance premiums, shipping & handling expenses or payment processing charges, according to a particular geographical market. 

Shipping & Returns, and Customer service

A critical operational task belongs to handling shipping and returns and providing exceptional customer service. 

Ensure that you’re able to establish clear delivery expectations for your buyers and set up an attractive and reasoned return policy. For instance, think about if you’d prefer to offer cash or store credit returns, set a time limit for accepting returned purchases from customers and analyze additional costs for your business due to restocking and return deliveries. 

Moreover, offering satisfactory customer service to your buyers is essential for successful business operations. Think about the languages you will support and the time-zone during which customer service should be available, according to your market of choice. 

Go To Market

Amazon

If you decide to sell internationally on Amazon, you’ll see that it’s pretty straightforward. Essentially, these are the steps to follow. 

  1. Conduct your own research and decide for a product and Amazon marketplace
  2. Validate and redefine your insights with an Amazon Research Tool
  3. Register as an Amazon Seller and list your products
  4. Select a fulfillment method (Fulfillment by Merchant or Fulfillment by Amazon)

eBay

Alternatively, you may choose to expand your business operations internationally by selling on eBay. Here’s a quick overview of the necessary requirements.

  1. Have an eBay account in good standing
  2. Be Registered on PayPal
  3. Validate and redefine your insights with an eBay Research Tool
  4. List products within an eligible eBay product category. Some categories are excluded for international sales such as video games, knives or auto parts.
  5. Offer a specific shipping service for each product listing (UK, Europe, Worldwide)
  6. Select the regions you want to supply

Shopify

Selling internationally on Shopify is not only an easy and quick set up, but it also allows to ensure a shopping experience tailored to your target market. Below are the basic steps to follow:

  1. Have a Shopify account
  2. Obtain a domain for international customers (either subdomain to your existing store or separate domain)
  3. Duplicate your Shopify store to the new domain and optimize in terms of localization: product pricing, supported currencies, time zone, seller contact information, etc. 
  4. Use IP redirect: detect the geographical location of website visitors and direct them to the right shop 
  5. Adjust the target country in Google search console according to your new store domain. 

You own online store 

You’ve decided to expand your business internationally through your own online store – Now localization is key

Put yourself in the shoes of your prospects. Provide a satisfactory buying experience by optimizing your store for international markets and adapting it to customers in your target market. 

These are the steps to localize eCommerce website:

  1. Offer multi-language shopping experience
  2. Highlight that you accept international orders
  3. List your products in local currencies
  4. Standardize and adapt product identifiers to your target market. For instance, you may use a GTIN lookup to convert ASIN, EAN or ISBN codes of your inventory.
  5. Offer preferred payment option of your customers
  6. Create a custom website for certain markets with a local domain name
  7. Adapt logistic operations for shipping and returns
  8. Provide specific customer service (adapted to language & time zone)